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Neutral Zone: On the futures of Coyotes free agents John Farinacci, Jan Jeník; Sun Devils free agent Robert Mastrosimone

Craig Morgan Avatar
August 16, 2023
Harvard's John Farinacci won't be signing with the Coyotes.

Free agency began 46 days ago but there were still three names with Coyotes and Arizona State ties whose futures were uncertain when the week began.

One of those players found a home on Wednesday morning, another could find a home later today, and one player’s future is still uncertain. Here’s a look at the situations for Coyotes free-agent forwards John Farinacci, Jan Jeník and Sun Devils free-agent forward Robert Mastrosimone.


John Farinacci: When Harvard’s season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in late March, the Coyotes felt confident that they would be able to sign their 2019 third-round pick (No. 76) quickly. Two weeks later, it became clear that Farinacci would wait until the Coyotes’ rights to him expired so he could become a free-agent on Aug. 15.

It was an abrupt and surprising about-face from what he had previously indicated, and it was definitely not the Coyotes’ decision to part ways. They believed that Farinacci could bring a mature, NHL-style game. There was also opportunity for him to play quickly before some of the younger prospects found their way into the lineup.

“We like John as a player,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said hours before Farinacci entered the open market on Tuesday. “We tried for two years to sign him. We wish him the best with whoever he signs with.”

That team ended up being the Boston Bruins, who signed Farinacci to a two-year, entry-level deal. Farinacci’s uncle and Harvard’s coach, Ted Donato, played for the Bruins for eight-plus seasons.

Farinacci had one of the more disjointed collegiate careers you will find. When COVID-19 canceled the entire 2020-21 Ivy League season, he made the most of his time by playing seven games for Muskegon in the USHL, and seven for the United States, which captured the gold medal at the World Junior Championship. Rather than returning to the USHL after the tournament, he trained with a bunch of Harvard teammates and trainer Brett Strot in Tampa (on their own dimes). 

The year off hurt his production in 2021-22, but he trained even harder last offseason with the goal of finishing his Harvard career with a flourish. 

That was another lesson learned.

Farinacci sustained a herniated disc in his lower back that required microdiscectomy surgery. Due to recovery and rehab, he didn’t return to the Harvard lineup until Jan. 13, 2023.

“I’m just looking at it from a glass-half-full mentality; knowing that it’s all happening for a reason,” he said at the time. “It’s going to make me stronger mentally and more specifically, it taught me what exercises I can’t do and how to train smarter.”

Earlier in his career, Armstrong noted Farinacci’s ability to make an impact at every level, including the 2021 World Junior Championship where he had five goals and seven points for Team USA in seven games despite getting no power-play time for the gold-medal winners.

Coyotes director of player development Lee Stempniak also noted Farinacci’s cerebral game when I checked in with him after Farinacci’s return to the Harvard lineup last winter.

“He’s a really intelligent player,” Stempniak said at the time. “He’s always in the right spot defensively and he’s skilled. He’s got good puck skills, he can make plays in traffic, he can make all the little plays, and what I like about him is he’s got the ability to play on the inside. He is a guy that can take the puck from outside the dots and find ways to get it inside to the middle of the ice, whether that’s little passes through guys or slick moves or finding those pucks with instinct.”

The Coyotes aren’t exactly deep on center prospects so losing Farinacci is a blow, but he projected to be a depth forward in the NHL so the loss is by no means a major blow. Arizona would still like to add to the position, but with Logan Cooley, Barrett Hayton, Conor Geekie, Jack McBain, Sam Lipkin and Nathan Smith in the fold, Arizona has enough depth to withstand the odd defection of a depth player. It also has other prospects in the pipeline and 13 picks in the first two rounds of the next three drafts.

Jan Jeník: Jeník is Arizona’s only remaining restricted free agent whom the team has not signed. It does not sound like that is close to changing.

Jeník did not accept his qualifying offer of $787,500 in July and his agent, Allan Walsh, put out the following tweet a day before that decision was made.

When Jeník chose not to accept his qualifying offer, he left himself with four options:

  • Sit out, not play and not get paid. If he does not sign with the Coyotes or another team by Dec. 1 he is ineligible to play in the NHL this season.
  • Hope that another NHL team signed him to an offer sheet that the Coyotes did not match
  • Request a trade
  • Play in Europe

Walsh has not returned messages left for him, but a source familiar with the situation said that while Jeník has options to play in Europe he wants to stay in North America and pursue his NHL dream so he is seeking a trade.

Jeník has appeared in just 17 NHL games, totaling four goals and five points. Injuries have impacted his development, but inconsistency has also been an issue for the soon-to-be 23-year-old forward.

“He makes it very interesting with his size and his attributes offensively and his instincts, but to play in the NHL, if you’re not going to be a point-per-game guy, or if you’re not going to be real dynamic offensively, then then you have to be really good and strong on the defensive side of the puck and it’s not something that he thought a lot about over his junior career,” Roadrunners coach Steve Potvin said a year ago.

“He’s fully aware that he needs to be committed to the D-zone and play over the top of the puck and underneath. It’s going to take some reps. It’s not natural yet. Until it becomes natural, he’ll need some time, but he is making progress.”

It’s unclear how long the Coyotes will be willing to let this situation play out before attempting to maximize their asset, but for the time being, they seem content to let Jeník sit. With the recent free-agent signings expected to eat up what’s left of the NHL roster, Jeník has little leverage. He figured to start the year in Tucson with a slight chance of earning a spot as an extra forward in the NHL; a slot whose limited playing time would make little sense for a player who is still developing.

Sun Devils forward Robert Mastrosimone is leaning toward turning pro.
Sun Devils forward Robert Mastrosimone celebrates a goal against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Nov. 26 at Mullett Arena. (Getty Images)

Sun Devils

Robert Mastrosimone had the option to return to Arizona State for one more year. The NCAA granted many student-athletes an extra year of eligibility because of the development and playing time lost during the COVID-19 years.

Mastrosimone has been training in Arizona so a return would have been a simple process, but a source familiar with the situation said that Mastrosimone was leaning heavily toward turning pro; not returning to the Sun Devils. A decision could come as soon as late Wednesday.

After transferring from Boston University, Mastrosimone led the Sun Devils in assists (31) and points (42) last season. His loss, coupled with Josh Doan’s decision to turn pro, would rob ASU of its two leading point producers from a year ago.

The Detroit Red Wings selected Mastrosimone in the second round of the 2019 (No. 54) but GM Steve Yzerman elected not to sign him, making him the first prospect drafted under Yzerman not to remain with the club.

The Coyotes 'preseason schedule includes three games on one day.

Loose pucks

  • Expect the Coyotes to sign between five and seven PTOs for training camp this fall. The team will need a lot of extra bodies to satisfy the roster needs of multiple exhibition games on two different continents, including three on Sept. 23 (Australia, St. Louis and Wichita, Kansas).
  • If you’re wondering how the Coyotes will divide the rosters for the three exhibition games on Sept. 23, expect the vast majority, if not all of the NHL roster players to go to Australia including top rookie Logan Cooley and second-year forward Dylan Guenther. The game in St. Louis will likely feature AHL players and the game in Wichita will likely feature some of the future stars such as Conor Geekie, Maveric Lamoureux and Anson Thornton.

Top photo of John Farinacci via Getty Images

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